Blaugust #02: Traveller

This morning I went out for a walk in the sunshine and then had a full English breakfast and two cups of coffee in a nice local café, and now I’m sat back at home with a sketchbook and looking through my Dropbox folder of tabletop RPG rulebooks. A good Sunday so far, in other words.

For years now, I’ve collected rulebooks, purchased from places like DriveThruRPG or from Rob Lang’s Free RPG Blog. I have way more than I’ve ever played. There’s a couple of favourites in there — Labyrinth Lord and Risus, for example — but there’s way more that I haven’t ever tried. Bit like a collector, I suppose: the pleasure comes from having the thing, not from actually using them.

Moss understands.
Moss understands the appeal of the multi-sided dice.

Except this afternoon, I’m looking through them for something to play, solitaire-style. I have a copy of Tom Pigeon’s Mythic Game Master Emulator which is a great system for running other RPG games without a GM, or turning an existing system into a solo game. Along with Animalball Game’s Instant Game, I can pretty much generate a whole adventure (or maybe even a full campaign…?) completely on the fly. The world building and preparation becomes part of the game. I figure it might be a good starting point for some creative writing.

The setting

The first thing Instant Game prompts you to do is generate a setting by rolling a setting, a tone and two things from its tables. Here’s what I got:

Setting: Mars
Tone: Epic
Things: Trade, undead

Okay, I can work with that. An epic sci-fi adventure set on Mars, involving trade and, somehow, the undead. No game with space zombies could possibly be dull!

The plot line

Next, Instant Game has you generate a plot line to get you started. This is done by rolling an opposition, followed by an action and a thing, then an action and an other thing:

Opposition: Religious fanatics
Action and Thing: Discover castle
Action and Other Thing
: Research brains

Things are starting to shape up, and they’re shaping up weird. I can see how religious fanatics could fit in with the sci-fi undead; perhaps we have a group of evil cyber-necromancers (sure). They could easily be researching brains for their Frankenstein plans. Not quite sure how discovering a castle might work. Maybe there are hitherto undiscovered ancient ruins on subterranean Mars? It’s going to be fun finding out!

The system

traveller-womanI’m going to be using the Mythic GM Emulator and Instant Game to keep things moving, and while Instant Game does have a fully fledged system for actually running games, I’m not going to be using it. I had intended to use Risus for this game, as it’s a system I know and love, but everything I’ve generated so far has got me thinking… as this is going to be a sci-fi game, I could use Traveller.

I’ve never played Traveller. It’s old (1983) and arcane and even character generation is masochistic. Believe it or not, those are qualities I quite admire in a system. I’ve always been drawn to older systems from the golden heyday of tabletop gaming. And I just happen to have a PDF of the Traveller rulebook right here.

Traveller is famous for having an unforgiving character creation process. It’s quite possible to go through the lengthy process only to end up with a completely useless, crippled, or even dead(!) character…

Character generation

Traveller character statistics are rolled with a 2D6 (two six-sided dice). My character’s initial stats came out as:

Strength: 9
Dexterity: 8
Endurance: 10
Intelligence: 8
Education: 9
Social Standing: 7

Not bad at all, with everything somewhere between average and good! Traveller has a funky hexadecimal system called the Universal Personality Profile under which this character would be expressed as: 98A897.

Next, I enlisted them as a merchant, which seemed like a good idea considering trade was specified as part of the plot. They spent three terms in the merchant corps, being commissioned as a 4th Officer in the first year, but receiving no subsequent promotions. Along the way, they picked up the following skills:

  • Bladed Combat 1, specialising in the cutlass (space pirate!)
  • Wheeled Vehicles 1
  • Computing 1
  • Gunnery 1
  • Navigation 1

I figure after 12 years of being passed over for promotion, they’d be ready to muster out and try making it on their own. For their final benefits, they received:

  • +1 intelligence, taking them to 98A997
  • 40,000 credits (actually a really good roll)
  • An automatic pistol (not so handy for a character specialising in bladed combat, thanks dice)
  • A low-grade passage scrip, good for one interstellar cryogenic stasis trip

We have quite an interesting character here. They’re reasonably intelligent, strong and tough, and they’re equally at home with a sword, a keyboard, a star chart, or ship-mounted cannons. I’d wager they’ve travelled on trading ships, serving as navigator or gunner, or on smaller ships, likely both. They’ve served for 12 years without rising above the lowest rank though, so there’s something wrong there; a lack of skill, talent, conviction, or maybe just terrible, terrible circumstances.

But now they find themselves on Mars, with an undiscovered zombie threat looming, and only forty thousand credits and a pistol they can’t shoot straight to their name.

Next steps

Our reluctant protagonist needs a name and an appearance, and I need to read the Traveller rulebook and do the bookkeeping things the Mythic GM Emulator requires. This has been a really long post, so I’m going to break it off here for today. I’ll probably return to this budding space opera later in #blaugust…

  6 comments for “Blaugust #02: Traveller

  1. August 2, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    I’ll never forget Traveller, at least partly because it’s associated with one of the worst years of my life (good start there eh? 😀 ). There’s nothing like RPG nostalgia…
    And I too own far more rulesets and supplements than I’ll ever be able to play. I recently picked up the Bundle of Holding “Deadlands” offer and am looking forward to reading through that sooner or later…

  2. August 3, 2015 at 12:04 am

    I wish I had the local friendbase to do this type of gaming, but I sadly don’t. There’s a chance I may join a group though, so there is that.

    As a kid, I’d look at the handbooks for D&D anytime I went to the bookstore, but I wasn’t a very outgoing kid and I grew up in a small town. My interests were largely limited to what my friends liked, and that didn’t include any pen & paper.

    • Phil
      August 3, 2015 at 12:12 am

      There’s plenty of scope for playing online now, with all sorts of tools from plain ol’ email, through interactive storytelling apps like Storium (which is brilliant), and even apps for simulating entire tabletop maps. You probably know all this, though 🙂

    • August 3, 2015 at 3:02 pm

      Have you ever tried playing by Email, Murf? I used to run a ton of games that way when I no longer had a gaming group. Nowadays I have one surviving (barely) – a Call of Cthulhu campaign. Playing by Email is a lot slower but can scratch the itch somewhat.

  3. August 3, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    I used to LOVE traveller. I was there when it first came out and absolutely loved the character creation process (more so than actually GMing the game) I still get that tingle of excitement just thinking about it!

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